Information for Would-be S/G Writers

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Title: Information for Would-be S/G Writers
Creator: Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer
Date(s): May 1993
Medium: print
Fandom: Sime~Gen
Topic:
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Information for Would-be S/G Writers is a 1993 essay by Kerry Lindemann-Schaefer.

It was printed in Ambrov Zeor #22, an official publication of Jacqueline Lichtenberg.

The focus of the essay was writing tips for fans of Sime~Gen who wanted to write in that universe.

It contains three "helpful hints" and a small essay by Jacqueline Lichtenberg about criticism.

Something to keep in mind: this was written less than a year after the Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy, yet there is no mention, at least here, of a release form. [1]

The Essay

The three hints:

1. Heed the proper use of "kill, "need," "transfer," "berserker," in Sime~Gen fanfic. For more on this, see Lichtenberg's statements in Ambrov Zeor #22.

2. Send Lichtenberg and company an outline of your story, so they can set you on the right track before you even start.

3. Format your manuscript properly.

Lichtenberg included "Words of Warning from Jacqueline on the Subject of Criticism (Just so you know what you're getting into!)"

The Negative Value of Positive Input.

To a serious writer, even one who hasn't sold yet and may choose to never attempt to sell, positive input has no value whatsoever and is a waste of time to read. It's the seemingly insightful fingering of the flaws that the real writer is starving for. And that's what I (and all the editors and agents I know, as well as most of the writers I know) dish out.

Therefore, a lot of my criticism is couched in acid-tipped language. If there's nothing complimentary to say, I use scathing rebukes and searing putdowns to make my points.

I have a reason for this and it's not cold, uncaring cruelty. It's the cauldron in which professionals are tempered. It is how I was taught, and the very pain is really the only teacher. No pain, no gain. It's true. Writing is about pain, human pain, emotional and physical pain, because without the pain there can be no pleasure. No one who is afraid to hear the truth about their product will ever make a good writer.

AZ and the other zines do not "nurture" any writers. Writers are not made by nurturing. They are made by truth, craftsmanship and discipline. They are made by honesty, not by "positive input." Anyone who can be discouraged from this craft should be discouraged. Writing is something you do because you can't not do it. It's not something to do for glory. Tender egos should not be nurtured because if they do get so full of "positive input" that they think they can write, they'll be doubly devastated by the first truth that comes from a professional editor. Positive input only makes that moment of truth unutterably destructive.

After you've gone a few rounds with me, and you begin to see a positive comment on your mss, however small, fleeting or irrelevant, you know it's the truth and not any kind of salve for your ego. You know you did it!

When I was writing Kraith, twenty years ago, I had letters in every zine that carried my stories begging and begging for negative input—I had tons of letters of positive input that did me no good whatsoever. The oniy letters of any value were those pointing out where my stories failed, not where they succeeded. Stories succeed for different reasons, but they fail for the same reasons: plot, conflict, thematic disunity, etcetera.

I have no trouble getting along with people who are wholly and totally incompatible with me, and I welcome with open arms S/G stories that are incompatible with my own biases and themes. I've worked with many ST and S/G writers who are now better than I will ever be, many of whom will never, ever submit anything for professional sale. I have no problem with that.

But I am a professional and the S/G zines are amateur publications. The only way we can pay contributors for their work is with access to professional level criticism, plus publication in a zine that has become known for its rigorously high standards. AZ is an expensive addiction for our readers and so we try to deliver a product that meets their highest expectations. Many of the stories we've published actually exceed the minimum standards necessary for professional publication—and that's why we are now beginning to see so many of us breaking into professional print. And I expect more to come.

I often circulate mss submitted to me among several other S/G writers for their comments, so don't be surprised if your ms returns to you via people you don't yet know.

No beginning writer can learn anything of substance from a non-writer. Most other beginning writers have little input of value. But the more criticism a beginner has taken, the better their output comments on other mss. I have beginners comment on other beginners for their own benefit—to make them articulate the lessons I've been harping on— not for the benefit of the one receiving the commentary. I tag mss to be circulated to particular writers for reasons having to do with the particular writing lessons each of the pair is wrestling with, I tag mss for exchange because of their subject matter, theme, or technical flaws. I wouldn't waste a serious student's time on irrelevant nonsense that isn't pertinent to what they are currently learning. I match up people who have something valuable to exchange.

So if you're willing to participate in this admittedly difficult and challenging experience, we're willing to have a go at your ms. Maybe, just maybe, you'll live to see your own words in print!

References

  1. This is Lichtenberg's release form now: when it was posted is unknown. It last updated on July 1, 2103. Sime~Gen Fanzine Fiction Posting Agreement, Archived version.